M A I N   N E W S

Sex workers threaten stir as govt proposes penalising clients
Fear the move will push trade underground, jeopardise those involved, hit initiative to combat HIV/AIDS
Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, February 18
A move by the Ministry of Women and Child Development proposing to criminalise clients of sex has triggered a storm in the commercial sex industry. The stakeholders in the initiative to prevent HIV/AIDS are also petrified over the consequences of the proposal.

First mooted in 2006, the proposed amendment to the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) provides for penalising “any person who visits or is found in a brothel for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation of any victim of trafficking”.

The first conviction is proposed to be punished with a jail term ranging from three months to one year and a fine between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 and a second with one to five years jail and Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 fine.

The amendment has reportedly been circulated to ministries by way of a Cabinet note. Senior functionaries of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, a major stakeholder in the policy, today said they had no clue to such a move and were opposed to it.

“The Inter-Ministerial Group set up to recommend changes to the ITPA has not even submitted its final report yet. The IMG hasn’t proposed to criminalise purchase of sex work. We’d be surprised if such an amendment is proposed,” Devika Chauhan of the mission told The Tribune saying dignity of sex workers had to be respected.

Organised sex workers’ unions today threatened mass agitation if the government didn’t clarify its position on the amendment to Section 5 of the ITPA.

“We don’t want criminalisation of consensual sex between two adults. Not all sex work is exploitative. Only the exploitation part should be addressed. If an amendment comes, sex work will be forced to go underground, putting us at increased risk of violence and HIV/AIDS. Today we can say no to violent clients and those who don’t use condoms. The changes will rob us of that right,” Kolkata-based Bharati Dey of the All-India Network of Sex Workers says.

The proposed legislation, “Trafficking in Persons and Commercial Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act”, seeks to bring Indian laws (ITPA) on a par with the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime which India has signed. Though sex work or prostitution is not illegal under the ITPA, in its implementation all sex work is seen as sexual exploitation though that’s not the case.

It is likely thus that the term sexual exploitation in the section will be interpreted to include all transactions. “The proposed amendment doesn’t intend to punish consensual sex with non-trafficked sex workers but it will end up doing just that. And how will anyone tell the purpose of people visiting a red light area? Not everyone visits for buying sex,” says Tripti Tandon, a gender rights lawyer.

Sex workers also don’t want clients to be penalised. “Everyone works for money. So why should sex workers be singled out for victimisation if they sell sex?,” says Safina Syed of the National Network of Sex Workers, Karnataka.

Penalties proposed

First conviction to attract jail term ranging from three months to one year and fine between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000

Second conviction will draw punishment of one to five years in jail and Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 fine





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